Monthly Archives: November 2017

Creative Communities and Intellectual Property Law

Betsy Rosenblatt, Belonging as Intellectual Creation, 82 Mo. L. Rev. 91 (2017).

In late November 2016, recreational knitters Krista Suh and Jayna Zwieman conceived of The Pussyhat Project — a way for knitters and crocheters to participate in the January 21, 2017, Women’s March on Washington by creating a simple hat for marchers to wear. To facilitate the project, there was a website (featuring several patterns for free download, the first created by yarn store owner Kat Coyle), an Instagram account, and a hashtag. There wasn’t, however, a focus on a particular level of output. Rather, the goal of the project was to foster community through creative work, building on existing networks of knitters and highlighting the ways in which knitting circles are often “powerful gatherings of women, a safe space to talk.”

The community’s boundaries were porous and self-policed. Anyone was welcome to claim membership; the only requirement was to create or be the recipient of creation. Although the basic form of the hat was loosely defined — pink in color and rectangular in shape — individual knitters were free to stylize their hats in any way they wished. Patterns were freely shared, and distribution took place via a voluntary infrastructure. The community that resulted produced tens of thousands of hats in two months, and representative hats now reside in the collections of major museums across the country.

Scholars will undoubtedly have much more to say about this movement as its history is written, including critiques involving, inter alia, race, class, gender identity, and the sociology of protest movements. For now, the project is worth adding to our consideration of other organic communities that have inspired creativity without a focus on commercialization — even if they also feature stronger policing mechanisms (Wikipedia), more reliance on traditional IP inputs (fan edits and cosplay), or more emphasis on reputation building (message boards and Facebook posts). What do these community gardens of creativity — unburdened by concerns about monetization or propertization — tell us about what the goals of intellectual property law should be?

Professor Betsy Rosenblatt suggests in her recent article that the law has too narrow a focus. Creating with and for others, research shows, promotes a sense of belonging, which, in turn, motivates and improves the results of creativity. Indeed, for the pussyhat knitters, a sense of belonging to a social movement likely provided the entire motivation to create. (I should make clear here that the example throughout of the Pussyhat Project is mine, not Professor Rosenblatt’s.) So if the law focuses only on the tangible results of creativity — what Professor Rosenblatt refers to as “stuff’ — and fails to consider the importance of belonging, it might incentivize less creativity than it otherwise would. Continue reading "Creative Communities and Intellectual Property Law"